Thursday, October 27, 2016

So Is He Psychic?

Recently the Internet has been buzzing with the story of Michael Lee, who predicted that the Chicago Cubs would win the 2016 World Series. Lee's prediction was made in 1993, in his high school yearbook. At first everybody assumed that the quote was fake and the accompanying image photoshopped, but subsequent research has determined that the quote appears to be genuine and may actually date back to 1993.

Some background - the Chicago Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908, and have been considered "cursed" by many fans ever since. But this year, after a remarkable turnaround, the Cubs are in fact playing in the World Series, and as of this writing are tied 1-1 with the Cleveland Indians. If they do go on to win the series, the prediction will be fulfilled. So is Lee psychic, or is it all a big coincidence?

Admittedly, faking a yearbook pic is well in the realm of a capable photoshop hoaxer. However, one Reddit user named number1makeitso claims to have found four other copies of the same yearbook, and that Lee’s prediction is in those yearbooks as well. The user posted them on Imgur as evidence:

And Lee’s former classmate Marcos Meza never forgot the prediction, according to WGN TV. “When [Lee and I] connected on Facebook in 2009 I sent him the photo and told him we were nearing 2016. He posted the photo of his prediction on August 8th,” Meza told the station. “After my Dodgers lost it was time for me to make this go viral and BeLEEve in the Cubs for 2016.”

The station has been in contact with Lee, who, fittingly, lives in the Chicago area and is waiting to see if his prediction comes true.

So it's hard to say if Lee might have had some special insight, or if this is simply a case where one out of potentially millions of predictions happens to have matched the data. The Cubs' playoff losing streak has been a running joke among sports fans, so it's likely that they would be the subject of a humorous prediction. I also don't know if similar yearbook predictions have been made for them in other years as well, since as far as I know nobody has bothered to look.

But assuming the the prediction is genuine, the more unique it turns out to be, the more unlikely it is that Lee would just happen to get the year exactly right. Psychic abilities can be maddeningly unpredictable - somewhat ironically, especially when they involve predictions - and it might just be that when he let his mind wander in search of what sounded like a good year, he actually connected with something.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Signals From Aliens?

It seems like every so often somebody reports on alien signals being detected, and the signals turn out to be coming from some previously unknown non-alien source. The classic case was when pulsars were discovered. These objects send out regular signals, which were first interpreted as possible transmissions from a technologically advanced alien civilization. As it turned out, the periodicity was simply due to the unusual makeup of these objects rather than anything technological.

Also this last year, scientists became aware of a star that appears to be dimming over time in an unusual pattern. One possible hypothesis was that aliens were constructing some sort of megastructure, like a ringworld or a Dyson sphere, around the star. Subsequent measurements showed that there did not seem to be any additional energy emissions from the star that would indicate advanced technology, so the most likely explanation was a natural one.

But that didn't settle the question, either. As it turns out, the star has slowly been dimming for some time, ever since we started making measurements of it. While some of the natural explanations like a halo of comets around the star could account for some of the observations, they could not explain this long-term pattern. Most likely, the star is just behaving in an unusual, star-like manner that doesn't involve aliens, but the possibility is still out there.

Then recently, another set of anomalous signals were recorded. Several scientists have now gone on record stating that they think there is a good chance that this time, what we're seeing is some form of alien communication. But others are not so sure, no doubt remembering cases like pulsars which at first seemed to be such clear cases of regular, periodic signals that appeared technological in origin.

“We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis,” write EF Borra and E Trottier in a new paper. “The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis,” the two scientists from Laval University in Quebec write.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

RIP Jack Chick

Hey, is that Jack's head there?

Over the weekend, the occult world lost one of its most fascinating adversaries, Christian comic artist Jack Chick. Chick wrote and drew all those weird little tracts about how playing Dungeons and Dragons, listening to rock music, trick-or-treating, and learning about science were all one-way tickets to Hell. Seeing as the Bible says nothing about any of those things, Chick really did have quite the imagination.

In 2014, Chick joined the ranks of comic artists whose work has been made into movies. Okay, it wasn't a good movie in the film school sense, but rather a tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly hilarious rendering of his Dark Dungeons tract describing the spiritual dangers of Dungeons and Dragons - which, of course, don't really exist because it's a game, not a real system of magick, Satanic or otherwise.

Among comic artists, Chick rose to a level of fascination as one of the bestselling underground publishers in the world. Early news of his death on the site Boing Boing launched Chick’s name as a national trending topic on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

In the late 1990s, a media watchdog site described the secular fascination with Chick: “To some, Chick tracts are American folk art, or even a form of religious pornography, titillating and somewhat dangerous. Chick is the ultimate underground artist: single-minded and self-published, passionately committed to his message without regard for external social forces.”

Chick’s 150-plus tracts center around distinguishing the “saved” from the “lost,” the latter represented by various culture war targets over the years.

“Despite claims to eternal truths, tract subjects are frequently chosen in response to contemporary trends and ideas,” said scholar Martin Lund in the book Comics and Power, “references to communism have vanished from Chick’s post-Cold War output, and eight of the twelve ‘Islam’ tracts were published after 2001.”

Unfortunately, Chick's biggest influence on the culture was probably fueling the Satanic Panic of the 1980's, in which hundreds of innocent people were accused of things that basically don't happen, even in the occult world. The FBI debunked "Satanic Ritual Abuse" by the early 1990's, but for those accused during this modern-day literal witch hunt, the damage was already done by then.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Regarding Magical Models - Part Eight

This is Part Eight in a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, Part Three can be found here, Part Four can be found here, Part Five can be found here, Part Six can be found here, and Part Seven can be found here.

In the last installment, I talked about how the "power" of a magical operation can be measured by comparing the natural probability distribution of the event you are trying to influence with the modified distribution produced by the operation. This is challenging to work out because generally you need a large sample size to determine the configuration of a probability distribution, and most magical operations are unique to some degree.

Motivational speakers like to throw around the overused quote falsely attributed to Albert Einstein, that the definition of insanity is "doing something over and over again and expecting a different result." However, reality is far more complex than that. The best strategy for accomplishing some task may only be sixty percent effective, for example, which means that you can't necessarily assume that because it fails a few times that it is worthless.

That also cuts the other way. Just because something succeeds a few times, that doesn't mean it's the best strategy or even necessarily a good one. Tiny samples are notoriously volatile, just on the basis of pure randomness. For magicians, it is vital to develop some understanding of statistics, because otherwise the temptation is to try and develop an entire model from a few examples. The odds that such a model is going to be correct are quite low, simply because it so easily could turn out to be based on statistical noise.

In addition to the absence of a proper "consciousness measure," this is a big problem with the scientific investigation of magick. Magical operations take time and preparation to perform, so in statistical terms most of us don't do that many of them. Even the many hundreds of trials that have gone into working out the particulars of my model is still a small data set as such things go. This is one more reason why I think "magical secrecy" is such a big problem. The only way to really get a decent sample size is to combine the work of many practitioners.

I've done my best to do this over the years, by compiling various accounts of magical workings from many different sources in addition to compiling my own data, but the process remains challenging. One of the issues when compiling data of that sort is that unlike your own findings, you're not working under anything resembling controlled conditions. In general, people tend to remember their successes and forget their failures, so there's no effective way to model those observations. Stories of truly outstanding operations can help to tell you what to explore, but you still need to do the work yourself in as empirical a manner as possible.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Paranormal, Not Supernatural

I post from time to time that while I believe in the paranormal, I don't believe in the supernatural. Some of that is axiomatic on my part - generally speaking, I believe that everything that exists is part of nature, and therefore natural. So you won't find me bad-mouthing science on this blog, because I think science is the best tool we have at our disposal for understanding the natural world. I just think there are phenomena out there that pose particular difficulties to the formal scientific method, or that mainstream science just hasn't caught up with yet.

Recently, I came across this story from the American Civil War. After the Battle of Shiloh, a particularly bloody battle that was fought in 1862, medics on both sides were completely overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Some of the wounded were left on the muddy battlefield for as many as two days. But then, a miracle seemed to occur.

All told, the fighting at the Battle of Shiloh left more than 16,000 soldiers wounded and more 3,000 dead, and neither federal or Confederate medics were prepared for the carnage.

The bullet and bayonet wounds were bad enough on their own, but soldiers of the era were also prone to infections. Wounds contaminated by shrapnel or dirt became warm, moist refuges for bacteria, which could feast on a buffet of damaged tissue. After months marching and eating field rations on the battlefront, many soldiers’ immune systems were weakened and couldn’t fight off infection on their own. Even the army doctors couldn’t do much; microorganisms weren’t well understood and the germ theory of disease and antibiotics were still a few years away. Many soldiers died from infections that modern medicine would be able to nip in the bud.

Some of the Shiloh soldiers sat in the mud for two rainy days and nights waiting for the medics to get around to them. As dusk fell the first night, some of them noticed something very strange: their wounds were glowing, casting a faint light into the darkness of the battlefield. Even stranger, when the troops were eventually moved to field hospitals, those whose wounds glowed had a better survival rate and had their wounds heal more quickly and cleanly than their unilluminated brothers-in-arms. The seemingly protective effect of the mysterious light earned it the nickname “Angel’s Glow.”

If this happened in a movie or on a television program, it would fit right in with a common paranormal trope - the wounds begin to glow, and then are healed rapidly, as if by magick.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Christian Terrorists Arrested

Last week, three Christian terrorists were arrested in Kansas. The three men planned to launch a massive attack on a mosque and a housing complex inhabited by Somali immigrants. They called themselves "crusaders," and the attack was clearly motivated by their hatred of Muslims. Some media outlets, though, were slow to call this what it clearly was - a terrorist plot - because the alleged perpetrators are Christian.

On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it had arrested three white men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, who as part of a militia group called the Crusaders planned to bomb a housing complex and mosque in Garden City, Kansas. Allen, Wright and Stein had stockpiled 2,000 pounds of ammunition and numerous homemade bombs to conduct the attack.

Their intended victims were Somali immigrants. In information gathered by the FBI, Stein, the apparent ringleader, told his followers, “If you’re a Muslim I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head.” Stein also wanted his confederates to “if you start using your bow on them cockroaches, make sure you dip them in pig’s blood before you shoot them.”

The destruction and murder would have been total. Allen, Wright and Stein planned to spare no one from their hateful wrath; babies and children would be killed along with adults. Stein told his fellow militia members, “When we go on operations there’s no leaving anyone behind, even if it’s a 1-year-old. I’m serious. I guarantee if I go on a mission those little fuckers are going bye-bye.”

It should be completely obvious that this planned attack, had it succeeded, would have constituted an act of terrorism. A terrorist doesn't have to be Muslim to be a terrorist. Looking at terror attacks around the world, the real root problem is intolerant religious fanaticism, regardless of the religion that a terrorist group claims to follow. Really, how different is a "crusader" from a "jihadist?"

Radical Christian terrorists and radical Islamic terrorists are basically the exact same thing - people seeking to kill those who don't share their beliefs. It's about time that they were universally recognized as such.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Regarding Magical Models - Part Seven

This is Part Seven in a series. Part One can be found here, Part Two can be found here, Part Three can be found here, Part Four can be found here, Part Five can be found here, and Part Six can be found here.

Moving on from spirits, this week I will be addressing the concept of magical energy. This concept gets criticized a lot primarily due to its overlap with physics terminology, but most of the alternatives that get proposed are no better. "Power" is one, except that it has a physics definition too - work/time. In fact, I just use "energy" most of the time because physics has definitions for just about any other term that I could possibly use.

At the same time, we need to be clear on the distinction between magical and physical energy. For a long time during the twentieth century, parapsychologists believed that psychic abilities had to be due to some sort of physical energy like electromagnetism. However, nobody has ever been able to come up with an experiment that shows psychic abilities are affected at all by substances that are known to shield electromagnetic radiation.

This result demonstrates that magical energy is something else entirely. The data we have suggests that "energy work" - ie. breathing exercises such as pranayama or qigong - substantially increases the effectiveness of magical operations according to some unknown mechanism. As I mentioned in my original Information and Energy article from 2011, magical operations behave as though information provides the direction and focus, and energy provides the transmission strength.

Energy work does produce physical effects in the body. It increases the amount of oxygen flowing through your system, and I am convinced that many of the "tingling" effects that you experience while you're doing it have to do with increasing the firing rate of neurons. Neuroscience research has shown that advanced meditators exhibit unusually high resting brainwave activity, and most of those meditation techniques do involve some sort of breathwork.

In China, qigong is researched alongside what we would recognize as more traditional medicine. Chinese researchers have found that qigong masters can emit concentrated infrasound from their hands when treating patients. Infrasound consists of low-frequency sound waves, likely caused by subtle vibrations in the hands themselves, which in turn can be linked back to increased neural firing "powered" by energy work.